Lifestyle

The Multiple Roles of Chairs



On a family holiday many years ago to Hong Kong, we stayed with my maternal grandmother. Though our Toronto home seemed modest in Canada, it was palatial compared with the flat on Tung Lo Wan Road that was our temporary abode for four weeks. My sister and I shared the top of a bunk bed, while my mother was in the bottom, and my grandmother in another within the same room.

An aunt and uncle plus their daughter slept in the second bedroom, and the third bedroom was rented out to a family of four.

Since she gave up her bed for us, another aunt made do with two metal chairs where she slept the whole time. Although we were piled on top of each other, my memories of that trip are full of good meals, laughter with family and mahjong games.

Chairs often have to do double duty in Hong Kong, although using them as a bed is a little extreme. It has always been somewhat ironic to me that people would devote more space to storing their accumulated stuff than they would to a comfortable home with real furnishings.

When I visit the aunt who used to sleep on chairs so many years ago, I am still amazed she has no proper furniture.

We dine on a mahjong table and all her chairs are folding stools. Yet her flat is not small – there is simply a significant proportion of square footage devoted to storing all the junk they can’t bear to throw away.

I have no issues with chairs that are also workbenches and sometimes even step ladders. I admire designers such as South Korean Seung Yong Song’s variations on chairs that incorporate other furniture, such as bookshelves.
What I do object to is the massage chair. I have yet to find one that looks good in a living room, and it’s a rare massage chair that gets used beyond the first few months for massages.

Often, it becomes the literal white elephant in a room – like the rowing machine that seemed like a good idea at the time. A massage chair takes up valuable real estate, and cannot be anything, but bulky. It is probably more beneficial to invest in a year of massages by a qualified therapist. It will definitely occupy less space.

Many newer flats have deep built-in window bays that can easily be converted into additional seating, if their heights are around 450 to 500 mm high.

Bay window seating, like most fixed furnishings, restricts how a room can be used; it means that arrangements always have to fit around the window seat.

Though it may be romantic to imagine curling up in a bay window to read or daydream, in reality it will be most likely too sunny, hot or damp to stay there for long. Window seats should be considered as supplementary to the loose chairs and tables in a room.

Despite the millions of chairs already designed, there is never a shortage of newcomers. Chairs are a popular genre for designers because they can experiment with form, materials, technology and cultural references in a functional piece of furniture that everyone must use.

In Hong Kong, chairs also often have to wear numerous hats. The next time you are looking at a chair, consider how you will use it, and invest in something that you will love over time, and that you want to show off. You may even want to fall asleep in it.